Monday, October 02, 2006

TA-ncient History #4: Dogs, Yaks & Boron

By the Spring of 1997, Total Annihilation was shaping up nicely and the public was about to get its first glimpse of the game. Our first magazine previews, print ads and E3 were just around the corner. We'd known from the start that the game couldn't be released under the wholesome family-friendly Humongous label. It wouldn't make sense for their audience, or the one we were hoping to reach with TA. This didn't stop some of us from drawing pictures of Putt Putt bristling with guns. A new name and a completely different image would be required.

Chris and I tossed around ideas for names from the start, but nothing jumped out at us. We opened it up to ideas from the whole company.

I compiled all the suggestions that rolled in. We heard some standard software developer-ish sounding names with "mega" and "soft" in the name. A couple programmers raided the element chart, submitting ideas like "cobalt" and "boron" Since we worked in the Pacific Northwest near Seattle, we heard plenty of pleasant names incorporating rain, fish, mountains and more fish. After sifting through these, Chris and I narrowed it down to two choices: Cavedog Entertainment and Frozen Yak Entertainment, both of which were his contributions.

We liked both names. I did some crude doodles in my notepad during a meeting.

I fleshed them out a bit more at home that evening. Here is a rough Cavedog.

These two pictures were pinned up on the wall of the office Chris and I shared. It was put to a vote, and Cavedog won by a narrow margin. The pooch was ready for prime time. That sorry looking Frozen Yak wasn't completely lost. It was unearthed as part of an April Fools joke on the Cavedog website about a year later.

The Cavedog logo ended up on all the usual things like business cards, letterhead, hats and the all-important t-shirts. I've done a lot of logos over the years. I still think this is one of my better efforts. I wanted to evoke paleolithic cave paintings, while keeping the lines simple enough to stand out, even when printed very small.

It did. I was relaxing at home in 2000, watching my favorite family entertainment, The Sopranos. It was season two, episode seven... the one called D-Girl. Toward the end of the episode, Sal "Big Pussy" Bompensiero was having a heart-to-heart with AJ in his room when something in the background caught my eye.

Could it be? A TA: Core Contingency poster in AJ's bedroom?

It is! You can just make out the Commander to the right, but the Cavedog is plain as day.

And there you have it. My small supporting role in television history. It's fitting that the Cavedog shared some screen time with the Big Pussy character, since both would be bumped off within the year.



CornCobMan said...

Heheheheheh. Frozen Yak.

Ultimately it was a good choice.

RC said...

Interesting, I'd like to hear more about cavedog / ta development. How could such a successful game lead to the closing of a company?

Clayton Kauzlaric said...

TA did well, but was more of a hit with critics and a modest (though ultra devoted) fanbase. That's pretty good considering the vast number of RTS games launching around then. In fact, every game in the franchise did decent numbers (yes, including Kingdoms) and made a solid profit.

The real issue with euthanizing Cavedog had nothing to do with the TA games. It had everything to do with FIVE games that never shipped, several of which were pretty spendy. (Most were in production well before Total Annihilation shipped, btw.)

Add that to GT's mounting financial difficulties and there was no way Humongous could justify the expense of keeping Cavedog going. It was sad, but at least the inmates got to run the asylum for a while.

Chris said...

Five Games? I can only think of Amen that didn't make it. What were the others?

Clayton Kauzlaric said...

A number of projects were started at Cavedog. Three games received a fair amount of preview coverage, with Amen being the most familiar. The other two were Elysium, an episodic RPG and Good & Evil, an adventure/RPG/RTS hybrid (not to be confused with the later console title called Beyond Good & Evil).

Two other games were also started, but were never shown to the world at large. These were Glider Wars, a flying shooter, and a turn-based multiplayer game code named "Butter" (sort of like Worms in 3D, before Worms 3D).

That brings the unfinished game count to 5.

James said...

Goodness! I'd be interested to see a post or two about those cancelled ones. Amen looked very ahead of its time. Although I know you probably didn't have much to do with that as it was done by another team in another city.

Clayton Kauzlaric said...

They were not in another city, but as separate as the projects were at Cavedog, they might as well have been.

Jeannette said...

Frozen Yak was fun - I still remember the astonishment and then enjoyment I got that April Fool's Day - but the Cavedog logo is a classic. If there are any design awards for such things, you should have gotten one for that, Clayton.

For a long time, Ahnteis at had a copy of the Frozen Yak April Fool's site. I don't know if he still does. --AMRAAM

Clayton Kauzlaric said...

Thanks AMRAAM. Nice of you to say.

There are awards for such things, but that is the domain of far hipper designers than I. I think the Creative Services department at Humongous sent off a sample of the whole Cavedog print ID to some annual contest/review thing... I don't recall if that went anywhere. I know I didn't get that years' Golden Semicolon Award or a bunch of roses.

I still have a TON of the business cards, though. If anyone needs to wallpaper their bathroom, let me know.

Anonymous said...

Heh. Not bad. I can see some remenicient of the Frozen Yak Logo in the Sweedish Yankspankers logo :)

Chippy569 said...

still got the cavedog shirts lying around?

Clayton Kauzlaric said...

Yes. Way, way too many... I'll probably do a post about my exciting Cavedog apparel soon.

Liquid Cobalt said...

Any way to get a hand on those cards and shirts?

Commander_ said...

Where can I get one of those posters?